The intangible, immortal part of a human that survives after death, according to some religions, is the soul. Some people are convinced that only humans have souls and therefore only humans deserve rights.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam teach that God will judge each soul at the end of the world and will determine whether it will go to heaven or hell. Hinduism says that a soul undergoes cycles of birth and death until it attains enlightenment. Humanists and atheists believe the soul does not exist; in this respect humans are on equal terms with animals.
How did the idea of the soul come about? Philosophers acclaim Plato (428 - 347 BC) as one of the few greatest thinkers of all time. Even though he lived in Ancient Greece 2,500 years ago his views are still influential today. One of his ideas goes like this. There is the ordinary world existing in space and time that you live in. You experience the ordinary world every day through your senses and interact with it. Everything in the ordinary world is imperfect, perishable and ephemeral, changing from one second to the next. But there is another world, a perfect world, that is the ultimate reality. The perfect world is outside space and time, is pure, unchanging and permanent. You cannot perceive the perfect world but you can apprehend it intellectually and might glance into it briefly and unsatisfactorily. Everything in the ordinary world also exists in the perfect world, as one is a copy of the other. Also in the perfect world is a counterpart of your body and like all things in the perfect world it is ageless. This counterpart of your body in the perfect world is what we today call the soul.
People in the eastern Mediterranean commonly held Plato's philosophy when the early Christian Church was developing. Christian thinkers of the times merged what they regarded as the most important parts of Plato's ideas (including the soul) with what they saw as the divine manifestations of their religion. The mixture was absorbed into orthodox Christianity and inherited by Western society. The idea of the soul has thrived ever since.
Not everyone today believes in the soul. A couple of questions are these. Only matter and radiation exist in the universe (being different forms of the same thing), so how can anything that is non-material exist? If something non-material does exists, how can it interact (for instance be contained within) a material body? How can something that is insubstantial influence something that is physical? The most rational and compelling answer is that the soul is only an idea. All animals, including humans, are on an equal footing: neither have souls.
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